Green is the theme

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Green is the theme

Microscope contributor

by Chris Mellor

We started 2007 with de-duplication a curiosity and ended the year with it present on virtually every disk-to-disk backup and reference data storage product. Data Domain and Diligent, Avamar, Sepaton and FalconStor have all made great progress. Still, it’s rapidly going to become ‘so last year’.

What will be the main theme of 2008? Well the building blocks are already there. We are awash in green IT conferences. Gartner is producing reports on the topic as if there is an endless supply of trees. Green information and standards bodies are breeding so fast there is a population explosion: EPEAT, the Green Grid, the Green Technology Initiative, Global Action Plan, the Climate Savers Computing Initiative.

Every supplier has become like Robin Hood; wearing green clothes and shouting out vows of green purity. We just ‘know’ some kind of regulation is coming and we all realise it’s about power efficiency and not hugging your local activist.

So what can you in storage advise your customers to do to advance their own power savings and position your business to take advantage of this dash for green?

There are four things that look promising. The first one is easy: take advantage of VMware. Virtual servers, meaning consolidated servers, need networked storage that interfaces very well with VMware. If your customers are embarking on server virtualisation then look to pair up the virtual servers with VMware-linking NAS boxes or SAN kit, particularly iSCSI, as it’s cheaper than fibre channel for sites with no FC bias.

The next three are less certain although archiving is a good bet. It’s split three ways, into tape, optical and software segments.

Archiving old files to tape or optical disk is so green it is going to become annoying. We all know tape and love or hate it; enough said. But the green tide should hold back the disk-will-kill-tape evangelists for a good while.

But optical media may be due for a resurgence. WestPoint has some highly capacious 50GB Blu-ray disk jukeboxes that can hold a couple of terabytes of data. It’s still in a file system and still accessible randomly, meaning you don’t have to stream halfway through a tape to find the file you want. Also Blu-ray just might be winning the format war with HD-DVD. Sales are looking good and it’s got backwards compatibility with CD and DVD.

Plasmon with its Archive Appliance has matched a disk cache with its UDO media, like WestPoint, but it’s also partnering with archive software vendors like BridgeHead, and wants to move out of the two traditional optical niches of document management and medical imaging. A strongly beefed up management team is turning the company into a much more sales-friendly concern.

Suppliers like BridgeHead are in a good position. You need software that can retrieve old files, move them to an archive and manage them, and it does that.

Here are two longer shots for badges of green success in 2008.One is power-down or spin-down, which enables drive arrays to lower the speed of idle disks to save power. Hitachi has it. EMC says it’s getting it. Copan has the ultimate version with its MAID array of mostly spun-down drives. Sun has sold a good few of these to the NHS Spine project.

If good MAID UK customer references become available then Copan and competitor Nexan could be worth having on your supplier list. Hitachi and EMC power-down kit should face less sales resistance, as they are established vendors.

The other idea whose time might be coming is solid state disk (SSD). Fujitsu Siemens Computers’ CTO Joseph Reger is a convert and thinks flash-based SSDs will start entering the datacentre to provide faster-than fibre channel disk performance and consume 60 to 90 per cent less power per GB.

Texas Memory Systems has added a new low-end product: the RamSan 500, with a DRAM cache in front of a flash SSD array. It costs less than £500,000, compared with £1m or more for its DRAM products.

In the more affordable price area there is the Mtron flash SSD. Benchmarks show it has a good write performance — the SSD bugbear — through using EasyCo’s Managed Flash Technology driver carrying out wear-levelling and other write enhancements.

SSDs are the most speculative part of the green 2008 theme; power-down less so; archiving a good bet with lots of scope for differentiation; and VMware-literate storage a no-brainer and a good iSCSI storage sales helper.

Go green in 2008. There will be a strong following, with standards groups, charities and consultants all jumping on the bandwagon. To round off the appeal there will be the government, with DEFRA and others shouting about green taxes, green regulation and green nannying.

Against such a background how can green sales pitches fail? Go on, sign up. Stick a solar panel on your office roof, print your brochures on recycled paper and go with the green flood.

 

Chris Mellor is storage editor of Techworld


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